Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Sun Editorial:

State needs to get behind efforts to improve student achievement

Over the past few decades, Clark County School District’s enrollment boomed along with the region. At one point, the district was opening a new school a month. It was all district officials could do just to keep up.

At the same time, academic achievement wasn’t on the same pace. Instead, it was dismal, and the district has been among the poorest performing in the nation.

Superintendent Dwight Jones, who took the job in December, has an aggressive plan to turn things around. Reporters from the Las Vegas Sun will spend the next year reporting on the effort at five designated turnaround schools — three high schools and two elementary schools — that have been chosen because of records of poor performance.

As Paul Takahashi and Dave Berns report today, Jones is adding resources to those schools and has offered added pay for principals and their staffs. Principals and teachers at the schools are receiving additional training, curriculum is being changed and the school days will be longer — up to 20 minutes for high school and about an hour for the elementary schools.

School administrators will have more control over their budgets and staffing, but they will also be held accountable. Those who don’t show improvements in their schools can be transferred at any time.

Jones has preached accountability, and the state is moving toward a system that will give educators a better gauge of student achievement by measuring progress over time.

“Adult success will be determined by the success of kids,” Jones said. “It seems easy to say, but that’s quite a departure (for the district). If kids’ success is most important, then evaluations and other accountability measures have to mimic that. Building a performance framework is a lot more aligned to true reform.”

Jones’ intensive effort to quickly improve the quality of the schools is good, but it won’t be easy. As we have noted before, Nevada has struggled academically because education hasn’t been a priority. The state hasn’t adequately funded the schools and, over the years, sports, physical education, music and the arts have been cut back. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the emphasis in education in recent years has been on standardized tests instead of critical thinking.

Education is fundamental to society, and to transform the schools, it will take a larger effort. Parents have to be involved in their children’s education, paying attention to their work and being involved in the schools. They should also press local and state leaders to improve the schools.

The bottom line is that the everyone — students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected leaders — has to make a commitment to the schools if Nevada is to improve the education our children receive.

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